Joe Delaney: Remembering My First Superhero

Craig BrownCorrespondent IApril 16, 2009

Chances are, those outside the realm of Chiefs Nation have never heard of Joe Delaney. 

If they have, it's likely they are 35 to 50-year-olds who craved football in the early '80s, like I crave football now.

Delaney was drafted in the second round of the 1981 NFL draft from I-AA Northwestern State, where he was a two-time All-American selection. While there, Joe also was a track and field athlete, winning a national championship in the 4x100 meter relay.

He burst onto the scene of Arrowhead Stadium in 1981, garnishing Rookie of the Year honors, and was selected to the Pro Bowl. He rushed for 1,121 yards and propelled the Chiefs to their first winning season since 1973.

Joe's second season with the Chiefs was shortened by an eye injury, as well as an NFL player strike. He amassed only 380 yards in the frustrating, injury-plagued season, but was clearly a player on the verge of greatness.

As an eight-year-old boy, Joe was my favorite Chief. I collected his football cards, wrote No. 37 on the back of my Sears Roebuck football outfit, and challenged my father to backyard football games, portraying myself as the great young running back. 

Joe Delaney was my first superhero.

Then, on June 29, 1983, Joe Delaney waded into a pond in Monroe, Louisiana, attempting to save three young boys who were screaming for help. Joe, along with two of the boys, perished. One boy happened to make his way to shallow water, and was saved.

I recall hearing the news that Joe had passed from my father. He was also an avid Chiefs fan, no doubt a product of the AFL years, and their historic Super Bowl runs.

Death was unfamiliar to me, having never lost a family member that I could recall. Only the bad guys on westerns died, not superheroes.

But my superhero was dead. His death widowed a young wife and left three children without a father.

The years that followed Joe's death were lean for the Chiefs, achieving only two winning seasons until their great run with Marty-ball in the early 1990s. During the Chiefs' down years, I remember thinking, "If only Joe could still play."

In July 1983, Joe's family was honored with the Presidential Citizen's Medal from President Ronald Reagan. Joe's No. 37 has not been worn since, and he graces the ring of honor at Arrowhead Stadium. He was elected to the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame in 2004.

The next time you visit Arrowhead and look out upon the Red Sea, scroll the ring of honor, and remember Joe Delaney. His legacy may not be familiar to many, but his ultimate sacrifice will forever make him my favorite Chief, and my first superhero.